Note: These are sermon outlines, not full messages.
As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
3 It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; 6 and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. 7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
When I was taught the epistles of the New Testament, they told us – okay, these chapters are the “theology” ones, and then come the “practical” ones. So Romans 1-11 is doctrine, and then 12 to 16 is application. Ephesians 1-3, doctrine, 4-6, practical. Although there is some truth to that, we have to keep this in mind: sound doctrine must lead to holy living; if not, there is a breakdown somewhere.
And today it is popular to preach “here are practical tips for successful living” – but they avoid the underlying truths, the doctrine.
4:1 marks a major turning point in the letter. Now he turns to direct exhortation: do this, don’t do that.
Here in 1 Thess 4:1 Paul shows the close connection between the truth about God and the truth about how we must live – 5 not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; SO morality is based on knowing God, knowledge about God must express itself in holiness
And the Thessalonians seem to be walking in holiness: As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.
In v. 3 – “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” – or to put it in plainer terms, “This is what God desires, for you to be holy”.
“Holiness” – in Judaism and Christianity it is God who defines what holiness means: “Your ways, O God, are holy” (Ps 77:13). The Old Testament is full of verses about how holiness is measured by God himself: for example, “You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Lev 20:26). And: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children” (Eph 5:1).
The section for today is principally about sex. Now, when we address this topic, we can fall into two extremes – we don’t talk about it at all, we tell people just to read 1 Thess 4 at home; the commentaries I read on this section, to me, danced around what Paul is saying. Or, on the other extreme, a message I heard a few months ago, it was graphic and gross, for no good reason, I would have been embarrassed for my wife to hear it. Some Christian books on sex are great, there is one I am thinking of, and I would be ashamed to be caught reading it.
Paul as always shows us the way ahead – he speaks plainly, but not with a smirk.
Here he uses the most general term available, “fornication” (NKJV) or “sexual immorality” (NIV). The term means, “any kind of sexual behavior that lies outside of a healthy Christian marriage relationship”. In 1 Corinthians, he says, that means you cannot commit incest; or go to prostitutes (rich people usually had sex with their own slaves); or have a homosexual affair. That’s because he cannot go out into the pagan world and just say “Don’t do fornication!” – he had to spell out exactly what that meant. And since he doesn’t give many details here, we have to assume that he taught them all about it when he was present with them originally.
Jesus’ main teaching was to apply the commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery: “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).
But it wasn’t enough simply to repeat this, it too had to be applied.
That’s a big part of the answer to people who say, “Gay marriage is okay, because Jesus never condemned it.” He didn’t condemn it because every single Jewish teacher in Israel condemned it, it was just taken for granted. So when they were evangelizing only Jewish people, it didn’t come up. But once you take the gospel into the world, where every sort of sexual sin was taking place, you had to give specific details.
NEGATIVELY in 3b – that you should avoid sexual immorality; Abstain from (NKJV) sexual sin – that is, make a clean break with it, don’t flirt with sin, don’t cut back, just step away.
As Paul says elsewhere: “no immoral, impure or greedy person … has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:5). So Paul’s disciples, especially the ones that came out of paganism, had to learn that the Christ’s sex life, like all aspects of holiness, was rooted in God himself: “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Cor 6:13–14).
POSITIVELY – 4 that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable [NKJV – how to possess his own vessel] in a way that is holy and honorable
This speaks to men and women in Christ. It was common in the Greek world that women were supposed to behave themselves, but men had much more liberty, Paul never allows that.
v. 6 – and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister = impure sexual practice is a path that leads to harming, and cheating, your fellow-believers.
In a later passage, Paul would show how adultery is ruled out by the love commandment (Rom 13:9–10, quoting Lev 19:18): The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” [et al.] are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
6b – The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before.
Compare this with 2 Cor 5:10, that “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
7 For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. 8 Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
Emphasis is “it is GOD who calls us to purity and holiness”. This isn’t just some human philosophy or a good idea that someone made up, it’s what God tells us is necessary.
And if God called you to be holy, it’s okay, because he also gave us the gift of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, and he doesn’t tell us to do anything he hasn’t empowered us to do. And when people push back, then they are doing what Paul talked about in other verses:
Eph 4:30 – “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption”.
Rom 8:13 – “For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.”
Gal 6:7-8 – “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Some people today disparage preachers who “answer questions that no one is asking.” Yet in this area, Paul might have faced similar charges; after all, the Thessalonian pagans were not waiting around for answers on how to stop living in fornication.
Let’s close out study of this very delicate topic –
I read an article the other day that pointed out how many people are watching pornography on the internet, and then it provided a list that showed exactly what sorts of things they were viewing online. Maybe 25 or 30 things. It was a long, disturbing, detailed list – I won’t read it to you. However, I think anyone who is preaching the Word in this day and age should know what was on it, and not be naïve. Paul was from a very strict upbringing, but he also spent his life evangelizing people from very rough backgrounds. He was not sheltered, he was in a positives sense “a man of the world” and knew what kinds of sins people got up to; and so when he shared Christ, he showed how Christ is the answer to every human rebellion. I think he would have known all about pornography, for example.
A Christian view of sex should be far away from the ways of Satan: pain, selfishness, exploitation; any kind of activity outside of heterosexual marriage. On the other hand, Christian sexuality should be like what God is, full of: love, patience, generosity, joy, and faithfulness. And if God calls us to this, we can rest assured that he has provided us with everything we need, no, absolutely MORE than we could ever need to live as he wishes.
“Sex and the Christian Life” 1 Thess 4:1-8 [Sermon Notes on 1 Thessalonians, Week 10], by Gary S. Shogren, Ph.D, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San Jose, Costa Rica